LAFAYETTE — The Louisiana-Lafayette men’s basketball team started the meat of its Sun Belt Conference schedule with a strong effort on offense and defense in a dominant 79-58 win against Appalachian State on Saturday night in the Cajundome.
The Cajuns (5-6, 1-1) shot 47.5 percent while holding the Mountaineers to 32.8 percent. Appalachian State (2-11, 0-2) made only eight field goals in the first half against a Cajuns defense that came out with great energy.
“We were active, we were talking and we defended well in the first half,” coach Bob Marlin said. “It was one of our better first halves of the year from start to finish.”
Senior forward Shawn Long turned in a big night, scoring 18 points and pulling down 15 rebounds despite Appalachian State’s best efforts to slow him down.
Marlin figured the Mountaineers would double-team Long once he got the ball in the paint — and they proved him prophetic, constantly collapsing a second defender down on the big man. But that tactic didn’t work in their favor.
“Going into the game, Coach emphasized there would be a lot of attention on me,” Long said. “Throwing the ball inside wasn’t necessarily to get me a score, but to open up other things for my teammates.”
Early in the game, Long showed some nice vision, passing to the open man created by the double team. Long had three assists in the first 10 minutes, setting a season high before the game was a quarter of the way through.
Then Long started establishing himself inside. He ended back-to-back possessions in the first half with thunderous dunks, the first of which came on a putback off a missed layup and the second came when he spun around a double team on the baseline and soared for the slam.
Those two buckets put the Cajuns up by 17 with 3:36 to go in the first half. A Johnathan Stove layup pushed it to 19, and that’s where it would stay going to halftime. The Mountaineers never got closer than 14 points the rest of the way.
Appalachian State couldn’t get much going outside of Frank Eaves, who entered the game ranked second in the SBC in scoring at 19.4 points per game.
Eaves did not start because of a coach’s decision, an Appalachian State official said, but he entered with 14:20 to go in the first half and immediately became the Mountaineers’ primary option.He finished with 19 points on 6-of-14 shooting, but Ronshad Shabazz (11 points) was the only other Mountaineer to finish in double figures. Everyone else was held to seven or fewer points.
“It was definitely a step forward,” Cajuns senior guard Kasey Shepherd said of the defensive effort. “This can only help us. Hopefully we take this and move forward and keep getting better on defense. That’ll make our team better.
The Cajuns used a more balanced attack. Shepherd (19 points), Bryce Washington (12) and Jay Wright (11) all finished in double figures, and that group did a majority of its damage in the paint, where the Cajuns enjoyed a 42-22 advantage.
Appalachian State has now lost eight consecutive games.
The Cajuns return to action Thursday when they open a four-game road swing at Arkansas-Little Rock. The game should be a good opportunity for the Cajuns to prove themselves as contenders: They have not won a game on the road this season, and the Trojans have the league’s top overall record.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” Marlin said. “But on the flip side, they’ve won a lot of games, and the pressure sometimes is on the home team. We’ll see how we do.”